Center Opens New Horizons to Retarded
-But Need for Jobs, Home Clouds Future
By CHARLOTTE DUBIN
Roberta is like any normal teen-ager.
Home from a Jewish Center club meeting,
she extends a breezy "Hi, Daddy-o" before
padding stocking-footed to her room for an
evening of phone calls and Beatles records—
all of whose songs she knows by heart.
But Roberta is no teen. She is 26 years
old—one of the "lucky" ones among the
mentally deficient of the Jewish community.
Roberta—whose brain damage kept her
in "special B" school courses till she was
graduated from Ford High at age 21 —is
lucky because loving parents and brother
helped her fulfill some potential for achieve-
ment, lucky because in their comfortable
Southfield home there is room for her, and
lucky because—though she earns but 80
cents an hour at the Jewish Vocational
Service Sheltered Workshop—she has a job
that can give her some pride of self. "We've
all learned from her," said her brother, 23.
"It's been a growing-up process for all of
Others are not so fortunate. Ernie, 45,
was in an institution for 20 years before
being released to a state family care
home on West Grand Blvd., where he
lives with 30 other men, two of them
Jews. His elderly mother could not care
for him, and, since he can't work, Ernie's
sole support is state aid.
An overprotective mother kept Margaret
safe at home—too safe. To Margaret, in her
middle 40s, the world outside their door was
an unknown. When his wife died, Margaret's
father started taking her to the Jewish Cen-
ter for some socializing. Slowly, she began
to make contact with reality. But within a
year, her father died, and Margaret was
placed in a state family care home near
Tiger Stadium. She was lost to the Jewish
What Roberta and Ernie have going for
them may be that vital contact that Mar-
garet lost. Thursday evenings, Roberta and
Ernie take buses to the Jewish Center to
participate in a unique nine-year-old pro-
gram that the Center considers one of its
Some 65 persons with varying degrees of
retardation are involved in the Center proj-
ect: Israel Boys and Israel Girls (age 18-30)
and Detroiters, a coed group whose mem-
bers range in age from 30 to 55.
In addition, two years ago the Center
initiated a fourth group, the Lions, for teen-
agers with problems—physical and/or emo-
tional difficulties, a need for social adjust-
ment, most just slow learners.
In the Jewish community, which places
a high premium on intellect, the retarded
have not had an easy time of it. And it
has shown in the hesitation of parents to
admit publicly that a problem exists.
Even as the general community's atti-
tudes toward mental disabilities began to
change, and as new developments in treat-
ment and rehabilitation evolved, the Jewish
community barely moved. A notable excep-
tion has been the lounge program sponsored
by the Detroit Section, National Council of
Jewish Women, in which former mental
patients are helped to adjust to an everyday
world. (Council also sponsors Orchards, a
residence facility for emotionally disturbed
But considering the number of disturbed
persons, Jews among the m, scattered
throughout the city in woefully substandard
conditions, what the NCJW has done is a
drop in the bucket.
The 175-member Parents Association for
Jewish Residential Care, formed by the par-
ents of participants in the Center program,
believes there are at least 200 Jewish re-
tarded over age 18 within the community
who need help and "probably a good many
more who would seek help if they knew it
In a study of its own two years ago, the
Jewish Family and Children's Service esti-
mated that in all of Michigan there were
perhaps 1,528 Jews with some degree of
An idea of the problem was conveyed
managed to absorb their retarded into the
community without benefit of institutions,
yet "Once a Jewish patient is released from
a Michigan state hospital, there's no place
for him to go."
(Europe, not the United States, has led
the way in providing model facilities for
care of the retarded. It has been easier to
experiment with new concepts there, for it
is a gruesome fact that few retarded over
age 25 survived in European countries taken
over by Hitler.)
Advances within the Jewish comb unity,
albeit slow and hard-won, have come .never-
Roberta's mother recalls: "Eleven years
ago, our daughter had no social contact at
all. She would come home from school and
spend the rest of the day in her room. One
day, I was told that Temple Israel had a
Sunday school class for the retarded, and
we immediately enrolled her. It was the
happiest day of her life."
Temple Israel continues this service. And
the 10 members of Roberta's class went on
to form the nucleus of a program at the
It was at their parents' request, and
the urging of a local organization, North-
west Child Rescue Women, that the Cen-
ter agreed, with some reluctance, to serv-
ice the retarded. Who could know what
effect their presence might have at the
Center? Would they misbehave? Would
they upset other members? The Center
decided to take a gamble.
Assured the financial cooperation of
Northwest Child Rescue, the Center agreed
to take the first step with 15 members age
14-20. They were called the Special Young
Later, reflecting on the connotation of
"Special," the staff decided the name must
go. The young people, who had just learned
about Israel, voted to link their name with
the Jewish State. Israel Boys and Israel
Girls were born.
The gamble paid off. Today, the young
adults' presence every Thursday evening is
as much a part of the Center scene as the
health club or children's dance classes.
Dinner in the snack bar is a jubilant—some-
times noisy—gathering, and several mem-
bers take buses straight from work to be
The program has been blessed with loyal
staff. Allen Gelfond, director of the group
services division, Sharon Alterman and
Cheryl Guyer, staff advisers, have watched
the members go through their first faltering
steps, guided them into self-assurance and
now can watch from the sidelines as the
young adults conduct their own meetings,
plan their own projects, raise funds for
Volunteers also make the program work,
the newest team of helpers being a group
from Beth Shalom United Synagogue Youth.
An important adjunct to the program, reme-
dial reading for the younger participants, is
taught by another volunteer, Leonard Each-
No two members have similar case
histories. As Gelfond pointed out: "Labels
are dangerous. Retardation takes in many
categories." Some members have emo-
Tamarack to five days and then, the big
experiment: a trip to Toronto in 1966.
"Staying in a hotel was the most fantas-
tic experience for these kids," Mrs. Alter-
man recalled. "They went wild over the
telephones, and to think that someone
actually came in to make the beds!"
The experiment has been repeated each
year—to Washington, to New York by jet,
to Chicago last Thanksgiving. The group's
ultimate dream is a trip to Israel.
Those who can afford it, pay. Those
who can afford nothing pay nothing. To
finance the trips, the group sells candy,
Hanuka candles, New Year cards. And
quietly in the background is Northwest
Child Rescue Women, subsidizing the pro-
Now, the young adults have added a new
dimension to their socialization with the
formation of a Bnai Brith chapter called
Ben-Gurions. The group meets on weekends,
holds car washes, bay rides and activities
that differ little from projects of other Bnai
Brith youth groups.
From a purely social beginning, the
Center program has expanded into other
areas. Besides remedial reading, there is
physical education for the boys, to develop
better coordination; sex educatio n—
a concern for any parent and even more so
for those of the retarded—is being handled
with the cooperation of a Sinai Hospital
At the core of the Center service, though,
is the one factor that unites the member-
ship in a way that no state-run, county-
sponsored or federally-funded project can
achieve: Jewishness. For Roberta, from a
Jewishly oriented home, and for Ernie,
from a religiously barren institutional back-
ground, being with other Jews, celebrating
Jewish holidays, feeling they are part of the
Jewish community, is virtually a gift of life.
Because it considers the community to
be vital to the Jewish retardate, and because
it feels the Jewish community must "take
care of its own," the Parents' Association
for Jewish Residential Care is petitioning
the Jewish Welfare Federation to assume
greater support of their needs.
Their first concern—first because they
feel it is more easily attainable and be-
cause it is a necessary adjunct to the
second concern—is jobs. Currently, half of
the young adult members are employed
in a variety of sheltered situations, a few
trained and employed by the Jewish Vo-
cational Service, a Federation agency,
others (the lower-level retarded) by the
Detroit Association for Retarded Children,
some placed in outside jobs by New
Horizons, the Oakland County workshop
In a presentation to the Jewish Vocation-
al Service, seeking extended workshop
training for the Jewish retarded, the Par-
ents' Association explained what it feels to
be the need:
"The mentally retarded individual more
often than not simply cannot function in a
normal job situation. His reactions may be
too slow, his fingers too clumsy, his physi-
cal endurance to short, and his mental
capacity too limited for him ever to be able
to compete with other workers — even in
places like Goodwill Industries or the
League for the Handicaped. . . . What re-
tarded people need more than anything else
is to be kept busy, even though they may
never be able to `produce' on a par with
The association stresses that the retarded
can work at a variety of tasks — "assign-
ments which others might reject as too
monotonous, too poorly paid, or too un-
In seeking "a place where retarded peo-
ple can learn vocational skills and then
apply them," the association points out that
any such vocational program must have the
"commitment to helping these individuals
on a continuing basis . - . the commitment
to taking on a client group who might never
be 'cured,' who might never cease needing
tional disabilities, others mental. Some
function well in society, others cannot. But
as a cohesive social unit, the Center
"community" of retarded is an astounding
"This program is not clinically oriented,"
said Gelfond. "We assess the individual
from an interview with him and his parents.
The two characteristics we look for are: Is
he socially deprived? and Can he function
within the group? If we see someone who
really wouldn't be able to handle the rules,
we don't take him."
The Center service remains unique. Mrs.
Alterman said the staff has visited compar-
able groups, but there is no other in the
state that services young adults. As for
Jewish groups in the U.S., few if any have
such complete Center support nor as much
freedom in programing.
It is this long-term commitment that
"Our tripping program began with a
recently when a young man asked The weekend at Camp Tamarack in winter and has caused some hesitation in JVS circles.
Jewish News to publish an appeal for summer," Mrs. Alterman said. "It was a The hesitation has carried over into the
Jewish foster parents to care for his 17- beautiful experience: their first time away area of the Parents' Association's second,
year-old friend who was being released from home as adults. Some parents were and ultimate, concern: a residential facil-
from a state hospital. There was no re- very protective. They sent notes, like 'Be ity for the retarded.
Just what does this commitment mean?
sponse to the appeal.
sure his coat is buttoned.' For some of our
Rabbi Solomon Gruskin, chaplain at people, who had gone through earlier, un- For Roberta's parents, now in midle age, it
Northville and Wayne County General (men. happy camp experiences, it was a new means a home for their daughter when they
tal patients), Lapeer and Plymouth (retard- world."
it—that Roberta would ever be in his care,
even after he married.
They came to the conclusion, however,
that the solution was no solution at all. As
devoted as brother is to sister, he cannot
build his future life around her.
"Most knowledgeable parents many years
ago started commitment procedures at a
state hospital," said Mrs. Alterman. "Each
year, they would call the hospital and ask
for a 'retainer,' a request to keep the name
of their child on the active list. Should any-
thing happen to the parents, the child would
"According to a new law, however, par-
ents must pay for 15 years of hospital care,
or until the child is 21," she said. "Since
this law came into effect, institutions rarely
take someone over 21."
Parents were thrown into panic by an-
nouncement of the change in policy. What
would happen to their over-21 children, now
at home, should they become state wards?
The answer would be a state family care
home. No answer at all.
Roberta's parents, like other parents
of the retarded, have grabbed at every
straw. In Israel, they found what they
consider to be the model residential fad'.
ity, a 20-room home for young people age
18-30. Yet, in Michigan, "I visited Plym-
outh State Home and Training School,
which is considered an excellent institu-
tion of its kind. I was sick for two weeks
afterward. How could I let my daughter
live there? There's no way of getting
around the fact that it is an institution.
And the foster homes are even worse."
Mrs. Moe Mitteldorf, treasurer of the
Parents' Association, said that leaders in
the field of mental retardation are agreed
that institutions should be left to the severe-
ly retarded. The growing trend, she said, Is
toward residential care.
She and other officers of the association,
led by pharmacist Harry Berlin, have been
waging a nonstop battle. They have virtu-
ally crosscrossed the country seeking out
programs that would provide the pilot for a
home. They have found several facilities,
but none yet that is Jewish Federation-
sponsored. On one point they are adamant:
it must be a Jewish home.
Federation is not convinced that it is the
agency to do the job. Representatives from
several Federation agencies, including the
Jewish Center, JVS and Federation itself,
have been meeting as an informal study
committee on the problem. While admitting
to the success of the Center program and the
unmet needs of the retarded, Alan Kandel,
Federation director of social planning, said
there was no precedent for a Jewish com-
munity-sponsored residence. "The time-
honored belief that Jews take care of their
own is not valid," he said. "We do not pro-
vide a full range of services, such as long-
term psychiatric care."
He contends that the parents are not
sure exactly what they want, or need.
"From our side of it, an institution that
would run seven days a week, at costs the
parents haven't reckoned with, would rep-
resent an astronomical investment.
"The problems in administering a pro-
gram such as the Orchards are formidable.
It's more than just a housekeeping situa-
tion; it requires a high order of talent to
"No community is going to take the re-
sponsibility of such a project without some
kind of supervision," he added.
"I like the spirit that motivates the Par-
ents' Association, but I have to be careful
not to overpromise," said Kandel. "And at
this time, there's nothing I'm prepared to
The Parents' Association, conceding that
a formal study of the need is yet to be
made and that costs are yet to be figured,
is nevertheless convinced that Federation
must support their project.
Said one supporter from the Center staff:
"There is unequivocally a need for a home
Those who grew up with their families, in
a Jewish environment, function like Jews—
not at all like those who were institution-
alized as children."
The parents cite precedents, although not
under Jewish auspices—such as the six-bed
residence opened by the Dearborn Associa-
tion for Retarded Children — and claim
others are springing up all over the country,
some under church auspices. In Milwaukee,
the National Council of 'Jewish Women and
the Sheltered Workshop are uniting efforts
for a home.
ed) state hospitals, said Jews in Europe
The program grew from two days at
was their son, three years younger than
The parents assert that Federation has
48 Friday, February 13, 1970
Roberta. They taught him—and be accepted
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
(Continued on Page 46)